Lehigh University
Lehigh University


When multiple identities intersect

This past May, Gallup’s Values and Beliefs survey revealed a growing acceptance of the American public on the topic of same-sex relations.

The issue is still one of the most divisive in American society. Only physician-assisted suicide is more controversial. But with a record-high 52 percent of Americans saying that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable, the issue is trending favorably for gay-rights advocates and researchers like Cirleen DeBlaere, assistant professor of counseling psychology in the College of Education.

“I think these numbers suggest that progress has been, and continues to be, made in creating an environment of increased acceptance of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people,” says DeBlaere. “But there is still much work to be done. The poll results really only get at the tip of the iceberg.”

DeBlaere’s scholarship focuses on individuals with multiple and intersecting minority identities, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color. By drawing attention to the range of discrimination these people experience every day, she hopes mental health professionals can become more adept at giving them proper support and counsel.

The difficulty of choosing a ‘paramount identity’

“I think this study highlights a great point—that oftentimes, the gay rights movement has been perceived as a largely white persons’ endeavor,” DeBlaere says. “But let’s draw a parallel to the women’s movement. For a long while, many women of color did not feel that the women’s movement accurately represented their interests as both women and people of color.”
This distinction often creates a divide that is difficult for individuals with multiple minority identities to traverse, says DeBlaere. How, she asks, do you integrate multiple identities when society forces you to choose between them? Are you a woman or are you a person of color? Are you a gay man or a Latino person?

“The insinuation is that you must choose one paramount identity,” says DeBlaere. “At any given moment, one or more identities may feel more salient, but they are all present all of the time.”

Gallup’s Values and Beliefs survey doesn’t probe Americans’ acceptance or understanding of individuals with multiple minority identities. But it does show a growing respect for gay rights, especially among younger men. That’s more than just a cultural phenomenon, says DeBlaere.

The topic of gay rights has been front-and-center over the past month, since a judge overturned a California referendum that had barred same-sex marriage in the state. The referendum, known as Proposition 8, was passed by a 52-percent majority in November 2008.

But even as the issue of gay rights grabs the national spotlight, minorities in the LGBTQ community are fighting an uphill battle for acceptance, says DeBlaere. That struggle was chronicled by CNN this June, when the media outlet featured a Hispanic couple raising a family.

“Stories like that truly show the importance of reaching out to LGBTQ people of color in both LGBTQ communities and communities of color,” says DeBlaere. “Inherent in this action is an acknowledgment that people of color exist in the LGBTQ community and that LGBTQ people exist in communities of color.”


Story by Tom Yencho

Posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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